People talk about the isolation of modern life and they point to Facebook as endemic of that isolation. You sit alone at a computer and type or forward things to a person maybe across the room or maybe across the continent. Maybe you have met the person, maybe it is a family member, or maybe you have never met them before at all. You can sit with someone at a coffee shop and ignore them while you post to your Facebook. Facebook isolates people, just as texting does, Twitter does, etc. This is all valid. People do often ignore the person that they are with to do things on social media. However, I think that social media is a response to isolation, that ironically may isolate us more.
If you look at the people who participate in social media the most, it is people with desk jobs, frequently who work in corporations. In cubicles. Nothing is more isolating, more alienating, than working in a cubicle for 8 or more hours a day. Now, you might be thinking, gosh, I wish I had a cubicle job. Perhaps like Samir on Office Space, you think that it would be nice to have that kind of security. And it is – for a very short period of time. After 52 or 104 or 156 weeks straight of sitting in a small beige room 8 hours a day, it grates on you. Working with other people 8 hours a day is like having a family reunion on steroids. People even talk about their “work families.” Which is to say that you are trapped 40 hours a week with people with whom you have very little in common in terms of background, education, political point of view, etc. Imagine being stuck with your uncle Steve 8 hours a day in a small room, listening to him tell the same corny joke and go on about how women in his day stayed home with the kids and had dinner on the table by 5:00 pm.
Are you screaming yet?
No wonder then, that you would want to go and write to someone who is sympathetic to you, who shares your sense of humor, who thinks the way you think. This is your Facebook family. You love your Facebook family. And what do you want most from your Facebook family? Connection. Approbation. This is why you might be at work writing a report or typing letters, and you will frequently refresh your Facebook page. Because you just reposted something that expresses your exact feelings about your childhood or about Donald Trump and you want to see how many people have “liked” it so far. Every time someone likes your post, you feel like that is a pat on the arm saying “That’s exactly what I think as well. Brilliant!” Even better if someone Laughs Out Loud at it. You get to feel good that you have brightened someone else’s day, even though it is not your original thought or creation. It expresses you, just as if you had read a really good paragraph from this book you are reading, via speakerphone to all of your friends.
Speaking of, I have been reading a lot of Marx and subsequent philosophers for my classes for a number of years now, and it talks about alienated labor. We don’t get to share in the spoils of company profits nor do we get to share in the joy of what we have just created, whether you are on a factory line or sitting in a cubicle crunching numbers. I have worked in any number of corporations in New York, Minneapolis, and in Iowa and Illinois and I can tell you that most of the cubicle dwellers hate their jobs. Facebook offers one of the few semblances of real connection, even though it is just a semblance. People are desperate to know and connect with people who think like them, who have the same sense of humor and politics as they do. In an increasingly impersonal world, to be liked by someone you have never met, 10,000 miles away, to get 215 birthday wishes, to have 32 people like your post, can be a little connection that you really need right this minute. LOL.